Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Yoga with Mirella Nicholson

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Practicing contentment in not knowing......

My zia sometimes tells the story of how when I was little I would make everyone crazy because I was always asking why.  I guess I'm still making people crazy because I'm still asking why.   I even make myself crazy because I'm always asking myself why I make the choices that I do, why can't I just accept things without question? etc...  It's these questions that keep me seeking answers. 

Once in a yoga class the teacher had us doing some complicated mudra (A gesture or position, usually of the hands, that locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain).  I asked the teacher why we were doing this mudra.  What was the purpose?  What was the desired effect?  - her answer was "I don't really know.  It's one that my teacher uses."  I respect the fact that she was honest and didn't try to give me some stupid yoga babble but I still wanted to know.   All I could do at that point was to turn my awareness inward and witness the effect the mudra had on me.   (a side note: I later did a google search, and a search in my library of yoga books and couldn't find the mudra so it's yet another yoga mystery)

If there's one thing I've learned is that the only way to know anything for sure is to experience it for yourself.   You can know something in your head but until you feel it and experience it you don't really know it.  It all comes back to this one truth.   This month my Upanishad study group is reading and discussing the Mundaka Upanishad, two modes of knowing.  Here again, I can study the scriptures and know it in my head but until I experience the teachings and how they play out in my daily life I can't really know it. 

"The illumined sages say knowledge is twofold, higher and lower. The study of the Vedas, linguistics, rituals, astronomy, and all the arts can be called lower knowledge. The higher is that which leads to Self-realization"

What that means to me is this:  By reading the scriptures I can understand them intellectually.  Performing rituals like practicing yoga is good.  Knowing what planets and stars were where at the time of my birth may explain why certain things happen.  All this knowledge is good but it may not lead to Self-realization.  Perhaps it's the questions - the why and how that leads to Self-realization.  

Okay, I've learned the sun salutation.  I've probably done thousands of them over the years but now I want to understand why?  Why do we salute the sun? Why are these particular postures part of that salutation? Why does the sequence create heat in the body? Why? Why? Why?  Will the effect of the ritual of Surya Namaskar be different once I understand the meaning behind it?  Will answering these questions lead to Self-realization? 

What does Self-realization mean?  What does it mean to you?  I can tell you what it means to me.   It means realizing that aspect of myself which is pure love and truth.  It's that aspect of myself that is unchanging.  My true nature.  Don't get me wrong, it's elusive and hard to abide in but it's there.  It's in the lotus of our hearts.  When we're there - in the Self, the lotus of our hearts, we'll know.  That's when we'll really know.  This state of Self-realization is "far beyond the reach of words and thoughts".  The sages tell us that once we reach that state all doubts will be gone and all questions will be answered.  (Then maybe my crazy monkey mind will give it a rest!)

All these scriptures, rituals, techniques and questions are the road maps and vehicles. The destination is the Self (the Atman) It's that aspect of God/Divine that is within us.  Everything we do either leads us closer to or away from the Self.  Just reading the map won't get you to your destination, you need to walk towards it if you ever hope to reach it. 

Maybe the why doesn't really matter.  Maybe the more important question should be, does this bring me closer to Self-realization or further away?

In the book, Autobiography of a Yogi, Sri Yukteswar told Yogananda to leave some questions to be answered in the astral plan.   I am trying to take that advice myself.  Trying to find contentment in not knowing.   After all, what would there to strive for if I already knew everything?

                                                           asato ma sadgamaya
                                                        tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
                                                       mrtyorma amrtam gamaya

                                               Lead me from the unreal to the real.
                                                  Lead me from darkness to light.
                                                 Lead me from death to immortality.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To accept or to change.... That is the question

Wow! Where do I begin? I suppose I should start by saying that I KNOW I'm not the fairness police!  There - I said it, I know it, now please indulge me a while as I rant!!  I apologize in advance if what I am about to say offends anyone.   This is one of the hazards of reading my random thoughts......

Sometimes yoga brings up alot of crap for me.  You know, all those emotions and feelings that you don't allow yourself to feel?  (maybe that's just me - God I hope that's not just me).  Sometimes it's something going on in my life or in my head, sometimes it's something the teachers says.  The problem is that after class I'm left to process this crap on my own.  I almost feel like we should have a "support group" of some sort after class to help us work through the issues that the practice brings up  but that's a whole other rant.....

Tonight's bhavana was acceptance.  Believe me, I know I have stuff I need to accept.  I know that I hold on to things that no longer serve me.  I know I hold on to old resentments and anger.  I feel it in my body, my jaw that aches, my hands that are always clinched, my shoulders that are up around my ears all the time.  I know there are things in my life that I need to accept - things that I cannot change.  But that's not what I want to talk about.  The more my teacher talked about acceptance the more heat I felt in my body and in my mind. 

The thoughts in my head went something like this:  "Do I have to accept it when people ignore me?" "Do I have to accept it when someone else takes credit for the work that I've done?"  "Am I required to accept that I can't say what I feel because it might upset someone else?"  "Am I suppose to accept other people's bad behavior?" -- YES!  I KNOW!  I AM NOT THE FAIRNESS POLICE!  I get it! 

It's a pattern that is very deeply ingrained in my consciousness that I need to simply accept everything without question.  For most of my life it seems I've been in the background.  Allowing other people to take center stage, so to speak.  Always being the good daughter/wife/mother/friend putting other people's needs before my own.  I've done this willingly.  Accepting the idea that their feelings or their thoughts or problems were more important than my own. (Are they?)  I willingly accepted this role of being the caregiver to everyone - even people I don't even know. Even when the care or kindness wasn't returned. Does that mean that I am required to accept the role of doormat too? 

"In practicing acceptance - you gain freedom" the teacher suggests.  I can appreciate that that is true. I have even felt a great relief when I have surrendered to something that I know I cannot control.  It's the same great relief you feel when you come into child's pose after a strong standing sequence.  But tonight,  what kept coming back to me was the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

What I kept thinking tonight was that I need the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know what to accept and what to change.  Just like a zebra can't change it's strips I can't change the person I am.   I will always be a caregiver - that's just my nature.  What I can change is not allowing others  to treat me like a door mat.  What I need to accept is that I must willingly give without expecting the other person to do the same for me.  What I need is the courage to speak my mind even if it means that someone will be upset with me but I need to accept the fact that sometimes people don't want to hear what I have to say.  I need the courage to step out of the background and be me - even if it means someone else may need to step into the background for a while.  
It's not fair that sometimes we open our hearts only for someone to step on it.  It's not fair when you are falling apart and no-one seems to notice.  It's not fair that you are practicing acceptance while others are imposing their will upon you.  It's these situations that I have a hard time accepting.  If I'm not the fairness police who is? Because I have a complaint!! 
Oh.....As if it's not hard enough to figure out what to accept and what to change you also have to consider the role of the ego when you feel the need to change something?  Was it my ego tonight that was resisting the bhavana of acceptance or was it my inner guide telling me I need to change?  A yoga support group would be so awesome right now.......

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finding Enlightenment in the shower.......

This morning in the shower I was thinking about a quote I read once that was supposedly by the Buddha.
"Before Enlightenment chopped wood, carried water.  After Enlightenment chopped wood, carried water."  If this is true it begs the questions  "Why the hell are we striving for Enlightenment then?!".   It also makes me wonder what exactly enlightenment means anyway.  If I'll still be chopping wood and carrying water what will be different after enlightenment?  I'm glad the world didn't end yesterday.  This gives me more time to try to figure out what it means to be enlightened.   

Of course since I haven't had the opportunity to sit down with Buddha and ask him what exactly he meant by that quote and since he'd probably ignore my question anyway I'll share my own thoughts about what I think he may have meant by "Before Enlightenment chopped wood, carried water, after
Enlightenment chopped wood, carried water". 

*The first thing that comes to mind is, just because you are enlightened doesn't mean you are now
  exempt from doing your duty of serve to others.  

*Perhaps the attitude towards chopping wood and carrying water changes.  Instead of grumbling about having to chop wood and carry water every day without being appreciated we'll begin doing the work joyfully.  Perhaps we'll begin feeling gratitude for the tree that gave up it's life so that we can have fire to keep us warm.  Gratitude for the water that keeps our bodies healthy. Gratitude for the strength of our bodies that enable us to do the work.

*In the ordinary chores of the day I find an opportunity to practice yoga.  While washing the dishes, folding the laundry, sweeping the floors I remember the mantra.  In this way, the ordinary chores become an offering to the Divine.  There is a little more joy in the work when I remember that.

*Easwaran says that you know you are progressing in your meditation practice not when you can travel out of your body to South America but when you can be more forgiving, more patient, more compassionate.   In this way, we can look upon the job of chopping wood and carrying water as a way of helping to lighten someone else's burden.  As we become more compassionate, forgiving and patient, we guide others to do the same by our example.

*Anyone can meditate when they are hiding out in a cave somewhere with no-one around and with no responsibilities.  It doesn't impress me when people talk of going on retreat to meditate.  What impresses me is when someone comes to the aide of a friend in need - even when that means having to skip their meditation practice.  That's Enlightenment folks.  Putting the needs of others before your own.

*Recognizing our own patterns and working to change the negative patterns - that's Enlightenment.  When we can witness the crazy thought waves of the mind and recognize the self doing the thinking at the same time as recognizing the self watching the thinker thinking the thoughts..... Oh God, I think I just gave myself a headache - but you get the idea.  When we recognize that we are not our thoughts and that we can change our thoughts which will change our attitude - then the spark that leads to Enlightenment is ignited.

*Probably the most important thing is that as long as we are having this human experience we may make mistakes.  We will make wrong choices.  We may fall back into old negative patterns.   What's important is not kicking yourself but doing the next right thing.  With each next right thing we'll surely find ourselves continuing the processing of uncovering the veils of maya.  As we remove the veils, our own inner light shines a bit brighter.   Our Enlightenment becomes more and more evident.   After all - we're all already Enlightened - we just can't see it yet.

*If you want to find a truly Enlightened being - look for the person who is chopping wood and carrying water - joyfully. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wanted: Inspiration

As I rolled out my mat this morning I was feeling less than motivated. I really wanted to crawl back into bed. I resisted the urge but I walk away from my mat. "I need to let the dog out" I tell myself. (as the dog is snoring away on the sofa) Pumpkin comes back into the house, jumps onto the sofa and goes right to sleep. I give a silent prayer to God to make me a dog in my next life.

No more stalling.... I light a candle and step on the mat. I need to clear the mental fog before I attempt meditation so I start with a sun salutation in the hope that I can begin to stoke the inner fire. My body was just not having it. Half way through the first sun salutation I find myself in child's pose where I stay for a long time. Where's my will today? Has it taken a sick day? Maybe that's what I need, a sick day.

I try again but this time with some slow, gentle movements on the floor. My head is telling me that I need to push myself because I need to shake out of this fog but my body is telling me the opposite. What's right? Is it my intuition telling me that I need to be gentle with myself or is it my kapha nature trying to sway me into lethargy? Ayurveda says like increases like and opposites cure but what about listening to your body? How do you know what's right?

The ego is a tricky little devil, it's working so hard to convince me that all this yoga business is non-sense. It's reminding me of all the contradictions in it's teachings. I'm struggling with the negative thought patterns like "what has all this sadhana done for you anyway?". "Why isn't the road you're traveling smooth sailing? After all, aren't we told that things get easier when you're moving in the right direction?" "Are these struggles a sign that I'm moving in the wrong direction?"

Doubt, I'm discovering, is the ego in disguise. The ego uses our weakness to keep us stuck in the mud. Even Superman has a weakness. His is cryptonite. My cryptonite is doubt. Some days I doubt everything - like today.

I've stalled so long that now the the kids are starting to stir and the house is beginning to wake up. Fighting the urge to take a sick day and go back to bed, I realize it's time to pull it together and get ready for work.

On days like today there isn't much I know for sure but here's a few things that I do know:
1. even a little yoga is better than none
2. it's better to take a sick day when the sun is shining
3. when I don't have any motivation for a home practice - I need to go to a yoga class -
4. I always feel better  after yoga
5. no matter how much mud there is the lotus flower will still find it's way to the surface
   of the water to bloom
6. even when I'm feeling lousy - there is still work to be done

Here's a few things that I hope to know for sure some day:
1. this too shall pass
2. challenges are blessing in disguise
3. everything is part of God's Divine plan - even when we can't understand it
4. like increases like and opposites cure
5. trust in myself and in a higher power
6. did I mention - this too shall pass?

Today's inspirational passage is:

Do Not Look with Fear

Do not look with fear
on the changes and chances of this life;
rather look to them with full faith that as they arise,
God — whose you are — will deliver you out of them.
He has kept you hith­erto.
Do not but hold fast to His dear hand,
and he will lead you safely through all things;
and when you can­not stand, He will bear you in His arms.
Do not antic­i­pate what will hap­pen tomor­row.
The same ever­last­ing Father who cares for you today
will take care of you tomor­row and every day.
Either He will shield you from suf­fer­ing or
He will give you unfail­ing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, then, and put aside all anx­ious thoughts
And imaginations.
- St. Fran­cis de Sales

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Devoted spiritual seeker or Yoga-holic?

Have you ever heard the Sama Vedas? They are ancient mantras chanted in a very specific way. Apparently there are different chants that are chanted at different times of the day/season and each with a different effect.

I first heard the Sama Veda when my teacher would play them after a session of yoga, pranayama and meditation. There wasn't any "music" just the chanting. I wasn't sure if it was the whole process of the sadhana or the chants or maybe even the combination but the effect was pure bliss.

During my 500 hour advance yoga teacher training course we spent a lot of time talking about the energetic effects of different mantras and even the different energetic effects of the way we practice asanas and pranayama. I can tell you there is no better way than through direct experience to understand the energetic effects of a practice.

Yesterday I was at a kirtan (devotional chanting). The kirtan artist was someone I had never heard before. What I liked most was that there wasn't an air of "rockstar" yogi about him. He was simply sharing his devotional chanting with the rest of us. For me, the effect was the same as the effect I get from listening to the Sama Vedas.

Was the bliss and devotion that I left a result of the particular mantras? Was it his voice? Was it my own state of mind? I love kirtan but the effect is not always the same. I love yoga but the effect is not always the same. I began thinking on the drive home last night that I should listen to the Sama Vedas more often. Maybe I need to include them as part of my morning sadhana (Hell, no wonder yogis gets up at 4am for sadhana - they need about 3 hours to do all the practices!)

As I drifted off into sleep I was aware of a thought "Isn't chasing the bliss just another addiction?" I brushed away the thought and drift off to sleep. I have a very addictive personality and on more than one occasion I have found myself wanting that bliss that comes from the perfect yoga practice the same as an alcoholic wants the buzz of the drink. My father was an alcoholic and my aunt jokingly tells me that my father used to say "I drink to forget". I am my father's daughter..... Do I practice to forget my troubles? Am I chasing the next yoga fix? If it's the effect of the practice that I'm after does that make my sadhana just another addiction?

I once asked my teacher about the fact that all the people I've read about who've had "spiritual awakenings" were all on drugs. My question was "Was it really a spiritual awaking or a drug trip?" His answer was "what's the difference?" It was an experience whether or not it was drug induced was besides the point. I don't necessarily agree with that answer but that's a whole other story. My point is that just like taking stimulates has one effect while taking alcohol has another, different practices have different effects. Are you chasing the stimulation and high of a dynamic, energetic practice or are you chasing the bliss of a delicious meditative practice?

Am I a devoted spiritual seeker or just a yoga-holic? Is it the bliss of the practice that keeps me coming back to the mat or is it a sincere desire for Self-realization?  I'm thinking of something my teacher has said.   He says it's like a room with many doors.  Once you enter the room how you got in doesn't matter anymore. 

The next time you step on your mat pay attention to the effect of the practice.  No judgements simply witness the effects.   As always, feel free to share your thoughts.....